How to Build a More Courageous, Innovative Culture

February 9, 2021

by Karin Hurt & David Dye

Are you looking to build a more courageous, innovative culture? Do you want an innovative culture where the default is to speak up – where everyone at every level consistently shares ideas and best practices?

A courageous, innovative culture where:

  • Teams at every level of your business continually ask, “How can we make this better?”
  • Leaders have the courage to ask what’s not working and really listen.
  • Everyone is confident to raise a hand on behalf of the customer and put purpose above politics.

Welcome to the World of Courageous Cultures

What does it mean to have a courageous culture?

Our favorite definition of culture comes from Seth Godin: “People like us do things like this.”

It’s that invisible force of mutual understanding and awareness that drives behavior. A courageous, innovative culture is a place where “people like us” speak up. We share ideas. We solve problems. The default is to contribute.

It’s a culture where silence isn’t safe, and effort is everything.

Courageous cultures go way beyond employee engagement. People are energized. They bring their whole selves to their work. Innovation isn’t limited to the senior leadership team or R&D. Everyone innovates, every day.

Courageous Cultures isn’t a book about large scale innovation, the ground-breaking shifts in direction to capture new markets, or building a game-changing product (though courageous cultures can do that too). It’s about the daily innovation that improves your customers’ experience today. The group that comes together and says “If we’re serious about this, we’ve got to solve this problem” and then does. When you build a courageous culture, you’ll see teams of micro- innovators, problem solvers, and customer advocates working together to make things better.

If you are looking to build a more courageous culture where people speak up and share ideas, our Courageous Cultures research shows that it takes more than an open door.

7 Steps to Building a More Courageous, Innovative Culture

Today we share a quick, high-level overview of our 7 step approach to creating a culture that encourages consistent contribution. For more, check out our summary here.

1. Navigate the Narrative

We all tell ourselves stories about what is happening, who we are, and what other people think about us. To Navigate the Narrative means that you pay attention to the stories you tell yourself, stories that reinforce your values, culture, and commitments.

Courage starts with you—the courage to get real with yourself, acknowledge your internal stories, and ground yourself in the experiences that give you and your team confidence and courage. Then you’ll be a role model for everyone else.

When it comes to building a courageous culture, leaders go first. If you want your team to speak up and share ideas, they need to see that you’re doing that too.
See: How to Tap Into Past Moments of Courage to Cultivate More

2. Create Clarity

In this step, you want to be very clear about two things. First, be clear that you really do want ideas—and keep in mind that your team may not be convinced. 67% of the employees in our research said that their leadership operates around the notion that “This is the way we’ve always done it.” And, second, be clear about what an outstanding idea would accomplish. In our Courageous Cultures I.D.E.A. Inspiration rallies, we start with 3-5 areas of the business where leaders really need ideas.
See: How to Help Your Team Navigate Their Concerns About Culture Change

3. Cultivate Curiosity

Here’s where you go out and deliberately ask people for their ideas. We share many ways to do this, along with some terrific best practices. The I.D.E.A. model also helps your team to vet and refine their ideas.
See: How to Get Your Team to Bring You Innovative Ideas You Can Use

4. Respond with Regard

One of the most frequently overlooked steps is how you respond to an idea—even if it’s not great.

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

If you want a consistent stream of ideas and best practice sharing, be sure you respond to ideas with regard. Start with gratitude (thank them for thinking and contributing). Then add information (about what is happening next, data, or more context). Then close with an invitation (encouragement to continue to think, problem-solve, and share).
See: How to Cultivate Solutions-Focused Employees

5. Practice the Principle

When you Practice the Principle, you commit to finding the core idea within best practices and help your team localize best practices for their unique circumstances. This step helps you to scale best practices across markets, geographies, and contexts.
See: How to Find the Great Idea in Your Best Practice

6. Galvanize the Genius

In Galvanize the Genius, you leverage a 5 x 5 communication strategy, communicating what’s important in your new culture five times, five different ways.  This means that everyone has clear direction about what is important (know), that those priorities and behaviors are cascading to ever level (flow), and that you are checking to ensure what you think should be happening actually is (show).
See: 5 Reasons Your Team Doesn’t Get It

7. Build an Infrastructure for Courage

When you Build an Infrastructure for Courage, you ensure that all of your HR systems and processes are aligned with, and support, the courageous, innovative culture you are looking to create. This includes recruiting, onboarding, training, compensation, recognition, and succession planning.
See: You Want Your New Hires To Share Their Ideas, But Do They Feel Heard 


Your Free Courageous Cultures Executive Strategy Guide

We designed Courageous Cultures to be easy to read as a team and to implement the tools and techniques.

You can also download the free Companion Executive Strategy Guide. You will find First Tracks templates and additional discussion questions to engage your team. We also include some “shareable” PDFs on the research and tools to make it easy to cascade the process throughout your larger team.


Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.